For Notes and disclaimers, please see Part One.

SPEAKEASY

PART 4

By Bastet: bastet_amun@hotmail.com

| Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4

 

 

Dancing in Baden-Baden

Max Beckmann, 1920; Munich

Speak Easy Part 4

Ann waited for Ned in Jimmy's car. It was a little chilly out, so she was glad that she had the presence of mind to grab her sweater. She must talk to Rose later about shopping for a new coat. Rose...what would she think about everyone leaving the party? Well, it couldn't be helped now. If Kate was in trouble, she wanted to be there to help her even if they had to fight about it later.

As she sat there, she wondered why was she had such a strong urge to chase down Kate. What could she possibly do when she got there-where ever there was. Ann didn't want to think about whether it was jealousy or worry that drove her to pursue Kate. She felt that Kate was too hard to love, but even harder to leave. The thought of perfect love made Ann remember the sweet and gentle love of Miss Ruth. Ann had been barely a woman then, but she knew that she didn't love Ruth-she had needed her. And it would have been so easy just to stay with Ruth and live with the knowledge that someone loved her more than she could ever love them. But honesty made her carelessly end what they had-what it could have been. They were no longer close, but they remained friends. Now she would pursue Kate, as Ruth had pursued her not too long ago.

Ann backed the car out of the alley when she saw Ned standing on the sidewalk. He walked quickly to the passenger side and got in.

"Do you want me to drive?" he asked.

"No. I know Brooklyn pretty well." She thought of how angry Kate would be if she saw them, and it began to trouble her conscience. Keeping her eyes on the road, she asked Ned, "Do you think we're doing the right thing?"

"Yes we are." Ned rolled down his window in spite of the cold. "Do you want Kate walking out on you every night? No one has ever been able to stand up to her."

"What about Rose?"

"Turn left." Ned touched her arm. "Rose doesn't meddle in Kate's personal business...well not until today anyway."

"Was it about me?"

"Of course it was. But it's not something I'm willing to discuss with you."

This surprised her. He had always told her what she wanted to know. "Ned, have you ever felt that you were being punished for what you did to someone in the past?"

"You see loving Kate as a punishment?"

She could feel Ned looking at her, but she didn't dare take her eyes from the road. "I hurt someone once," she said as Ruth's face flashed before her, "and I know I'll have to pay for it...in some way."

"I love someone, and he doesn't feel the same way. But, whatever you did in the past doesn't matter. What does matter is how you feel about Kate, and what you're willing to tolerate. How much are you willing to take?"

 

She knew that Ned was wrong about the past, and that he had missed the point for her being here with him now. Ann didn't want anything to happen to Kate or Jimmy for that matter. She refused to respond to his question because she didn't want to hear anything more about how she should handle Kate. If Kate couldn't agree on how their relationship should be, then no amount of manipulation by either of them would make it work.

Ned turned away from her and looked out the window, lost in his own thoughts as they crossed the bridge in silence.

*******************

After they entered Brooklyn, it didn't take long to pull up to the address on the piece of paper that had fallen from Kate's purse. They were in the parking lot of a darkened warehouse. Ann checked the paper again to make sure that they were in the right place. A few cars were parked out on the street, but the lot was empty.

Ann looked at the wooden crates stacked precariously next to the grey walls of the wide building. The crates were stained, and they reminded her of the sullen women in her prison cell plastered against its nasty grey walls. She spied a little light coming from one of the basement windows on the far side of the warehouse. She tilted her head a little to see how much room there was between the crates and the barred window. There was just enough space for her and Ned to slip through.

"Someone's in there." Ned pointed to the lighted window.

"It could be the night watchman." Ann felt uneasy being in this desolate place. It bothered her that three of the four street lamps were broken. And smells of rotting fruit and urine hung in the air. She was about to start up the car, but Ned stopped her.

"Let's find out," he said.

Ned got out of their car and walked to the pile of crates. He made his way behind the stack of boxes. He looked ridiculous crawling around on his hands and knees like a wobbly baby. Ann refused to move until he started waving frantically at her to come over. She sighed and resigned herself to leaving the car.

She crawled in next to him, ripping her stockings as she moved. She was about to speak when Ned raised a finger to his lips. He pointed to the window where a pane was broken. Most of the glass was missing, and the bars were dented as if someone had kicked them in.

Muffled sounds drifted up from the basement. Ann leaned forward to hear better, but couldn't tell what was being said over the noisy music. She peered into the window and saw a crowd of well dressed people walking up and down a line of half naked young girls.

They were touching the girls, appraising them like cattle being sold off at an auction.

The sight sickened Ann, but she couldn't tear her eyes away because she saw Jimmy, and Kate was standing right next to him. Kate held a drink in one hand, and playfully offered it to one of the young girls. She laughed when the girl shook her head in refusal. Ann was amazed by how Kate touched the girl...so intimately. "The same way she touched me!"

Ann looked away, disgusted and enraged by Kate's betrayal. She turned to leave, but Ned caught her arm. "Look," he whispered.

It appeared that Kate and Jimmy had selected two girls to go with them. Ann could see the four of them take their coats and move towards the stairs.

"I think they're coming out," said Ned.

"Or finding somewhere to have sex," Ann thought bitterly. "I can't stay here any longer. Let me go!" Ann tried to struggle out of Ned's tight grasp.

"No. Do you want them to see us?" Ned looked towards the side exit of the warehouse. "I'm sorry, Ann, but we can't leave now. I hear them."

"I should be worried about them seeing me?" Ann couldn't believe that Ned would care what those sick devils thought at this point. She refused to cower behind stinking crates while Kate and Jimmy walked away with girls young enough to be their daughters.

"Let's wait until they get to their car. Then we can follow them."

"I've had enough." But Ann didn't move because the door suddenly opened. Kate and Jimmy walked out with the two girls. Ann looked up and saw two men walking behind them.

The smaller of the two men spoke to Jimmy. "I saw you park on the road. Whose damn car is that?" He spit on the ground, nearly missing Jimmy's shoe.

Jimmy blanched when he saw his car. "Mac, I don't know what you're talking about." His hand automatically went to his pocket for his gun. "Damn." He had given it to Kate in case the goons inside got the notion to search him.

"Did you ask someone to follow you, pal? Cause if you did, you and your lady are in big trouble." Mac pulled out a gun and put it against Jimmy's head. Kate moved the two frightened girls behind her. She opened her purse slowly, and placed her hand inside.

"Hey, Mac," the taller man said to his friend. "I seen this guy in that car before. Who drives a green car anyway?" he muttered.

Ned managed to slide by Ann in the small space until he crouched out in the open. Then he pressed himself against the wall and snaked his way behind the open door.

Mac got twitchy, and started waving his gun around. "Talk fast pretty boy, or I'll blow the shit out of you right now!"

Ned cautiously stuck his head out from behind the door. He could see the back of the little guy named Mac. And the guy was shoving Jimmy. Ned willed his shaking legs to obey him. Fear drove him now. If the guy killed Jimmy, then he would kill Kate next. Ned brushed the sweat from his brow, then took a deep breath and stood. 'Gently, gently. Just raise the gun." He said a silent prayer and pulled the trigger.

A bullet flew from Ned's gun. But it spun off the lot's metal fence. Two more shots rang out. Jimmy looked on in wide-eyed horror. He could feel something burning him, and there was blood running down his leg.

Mac clutched his chest and screamed in agony, but he managed to shoot upwards and let one fly at Jimmy. But Jimmy fell forward, crumpling to the ground like a deflated tire. Kate saw Mac's friend move for his gun. She stepped over Jimmy's sprawled body, took aim and shot the gun out the taller man's hand.

Ned rammed into the tall man's back, throwing him on top of his little friend, Mac. Then he brought the butt of his gun down on the man's head. Satisfied that both goons were knocked out cold; Ned walked back to the crates to get Ann. Some of the crates were toppled over, but Ann wasn't behind them. He scanned the parking lot, and was amazed when he realized that she had somehow gotten past him to protect the two girls.

Kate went over to Jimmy and knelt beside him. He was pale and bleeding profusely, but he was still alive. When Ned came over to stand beside her, she looked up at him with cold fury. "Get the hell out of here." Her voice was barely above a whisper, but Ned could only stare at her as if hypnotized. "Now!" she yelled at Ned to get him moving.

Ned couldn't remember Kate ever raising her voice to him. But the tone failed to goad him into action. He stared at the fallen men. "Are they dead?" He feared more for his mortal soul and what his Maker would do to him if he turned out to be a killer, than anything Kate would do to him.

"The one on the bottom is." She noticed that Ned hadn't bothered to ask about Jimmy. Kate turned to look at Ann who was still holding the crying girls. She tried to make her voice gentle, but the sound was harsh and strained, "You should leave."

Ann gave her a cold look before she headed towards Jimmy's car. "Leave the girls," Kate told her. "The police will be here soon." Kate turned her attention back to Jimmy. She took off her coat and put it under his head.

Ned was unwise enough to question her. "How do you know they're coming?"

Kate looked at her watch. "You only have a few minutes. Get going!" She handed Ned her gun, then she turned away so that he would not see her tears.

Ned joined Ann in the car, and remained silent as they pulled out of the parking lot. He looked back to see Kate's shaking shoulders. She was crying. Embarrassed, he looked down at his own trembling hands with the knowledge that his selfishness had caused her pain.

 

*******************

It was the middle of the afternoon when Gus walked into Katie's. The only one around was Rose. She sat dejectedly in her office trying to make sense of the night before. After the party was over, she had dragged her tired and tipsy body up to Ann's apartment for some much-needed rest. She hadn't been too surprised to find that Ann was not there. The girl probably went against her better judgment to sleep in Kate's bed. But after a few hours of sleep, Ann had come in and woke her up. She had already packed her things, and all Rose could remember was a few hasty words.

"I can't stay here any longer. Ned will explain."

"Where are you going?"

" I need to get out of here."

Rose brought herself back to the present when she felt Gus touching her shoulder. The man looked as if he hadn't slept in days. "You look like hell," she told him.

Gus shrugged and sat down on the sofa. "I owe my hellish look to Ned, of all people. If you're looking for Kate, she's at my home. I took the precaution of keeping her as far away from Ned as possible. She needs to be alone right now. And I don't think Ned understands the meaning of the word."

Rose eyed him as he sipped from a mug of tea, sage from the smell of it. She wrinkled her nose. Honestly, the man moved so quietly. It bothered her that he was in the club and she didn't even notice it. He could move like Kate, silent as a mouse.

"Do you want to tell me what's going on?" Rose crossed her arms over her chest. "Ned isn't here to blab, so spill it."

And spill it he did. He told her about Kate assisting Jimmy to setup a ring of thugs who sold young girls into prostitution. They were children thrown away by their parents and society to be preyed upon. White slavery they called it. Gus could still feel the sting of slavery's affect on his own people...a brand his people would carry forever.

He answered all of Rose's questions patiently, and as honestly as he could. Jimmy being a federal agent was the biggest surprise of all. It was more startling than Ned's shoot 'em up and don't bother to ask questions later attitude.

 

"So that's why the club was never raided. Jimmy and his fed boys protected us." She was angry. She was sure Kate had been blackmailed into helping the little creep. "No wonder Kate never let me fire him," she said bitterly.

"You're wrong. She gave him shelter...a cover for his activities. In return, he protected our club, and still does. It was Kate's decision to help him."

Rose's eyes widened at this bit of information "What do you mean by still? He's alive?"

"I don't know how well his pride is doing, but he's alive." Gus continued to drink his bitter tea.

"Good, because when I see him again, I'll kill him."

"Then you will need to pray at his graveside because you will never see him again. The funeral is in three days. The obituary will be in tomorrow's paper."

"What!"

"According to Kate, one of the men who survived the shooting spilled his guts to the authorities. Jimmy's efforts brought down the whole house, and people will be looking to kill him for it." Gus stood to stretch his lean body. "Where is Ned?"

"I don't know. He must have left early this morning."

"Don't tell him anything. If he believes Jimmy to be dead, he will keep his mouth closed."

"That's cruel."

"But necessary. The thug that lived didn't even know Kate's name. I want to keep it that way. Both Kate and Ned's survival depends on Ned being in the dark...for once."

Rose had to agree. Ned was a blabbermouth. Nothing stayed secret with him for long. "Ann is gone," she said.

"Perhaps she is with her aunt?" Gus offered.

"No. I checked." Rose frowned at Gus. "Were you in on the whole thing?"

"No, I was not. Kate trusted me enough to call me when she needed my help."

"She should have told us what was going on. What the hell was she thinking?"

"What she always thinks, to protect us...her family." Gus left Rose's office and went into the kitchen to prepare a cold supper. Someone, maybe even Ann, would come back to make this place seem like a family again. In the meantime, he would do his part to make it feel like a home.

 

*******************

A home was not what Ann needed right now. After settling herself into a cheap hotel, she sought out the comfort of a darkened church in downtown Manhattan. It was a beautiful church though the grime of the city had blackened its old stones. But inside, it was peaceful and filled with the remnants of a past she left long behind. Her aunt had nearly pushed her into "wedding God," as she called it, but her uncle pulled her away from the Church's grasp. "You can't use the Church to run away and hide. They will hate you too for what you are," he had told her. Her uncle had suspected that she was difference from most girls, and he sought to protect her from the world before he died. Now, self-protection was all that she had left.

She slid from the wooden pew onto her knees. Hands folded, and head bowed, she began to pray silently. She prayed for the two horrible men who had attempted to kill everyone just to protect their vile business. She prayed for Jimmy who had lay on the ground in his own blood; she prayed that her anger would turn into hatred...a hatred cold enough to keep her away from Kate forever.

Ann nearly jumped when she sensed someone sitting beside her. She looked up into the elderly face of...what was her name? It was Iris.

The woman looked at her and smiled. "You don't have to get on your knees for me, dear." Iris laughed and offered her a hand up. "I remember you. We were in jail together- never did catch your name though."

"I'm Ann." She looked at Iris and noticed that the older woman was as well dressed as on the day they had met in that cold cell. "Is this your church?" Ann asked her.

"Honey, any church that's open is mine." Iris laughed softly. "What are you doing here? Repenting, praying for forgiveness?"

"No, for strength." Ann was comforted by the older woman's presence, and she sat next to her, leaning against the back of the pew. It was hard but cool, a thing of solid comfort inside the too warm church. Curiosity got the better of her, and she turned to Iris. "If you don't mind my asking, why were you arrested?" Ann held her breath, hoping she had not offended the woman.

Iris only smiled at the question, then she said, "I own a restaurant, and a club...what some would call a speakeasy. Guess which one I was in when we were raided."

Now it was Ann's turn to smile. "I was in the wrong place too." Her smile faded though because thinking of that day brought up memories of Jimmy.

"What's wrong, honey?" Iris asked.

"I've lost everything in one night." Ann tried to stop the tears from coming, but couldn't. She hated it when she cried in front of someone. Tears were private, not something to be shared like cake.

Iris pressed a card into her hand, a card much like the ones she saw Rose pass around. She looked into Iris' s kind face, then laid her head on the older woman's shoulder.

"Ann, if you need a place to stay, I can give you that. I can give you a place to work too, but I can't get rid of your heartache. Rest yourself awhile, then we'll get going. Everything is not lost, child."

"I'll take the job, as long as it's in your restaurant."

"You're a smart one. Want to keep out of prison for a while, huh?"

"What do you think?" Ann grinned at Iris, and crossed herself. She hoped the gesture would dispel any bad luck that may seek her out because of her wicked prayer.

*******************

Rose paced the vestibule of the church. She wanted to head off Ann if she showed up. Two days ago, she had informed Ann's Aunt Edith about the funeral. But she couldn't tell the woman that Jimmy wasn't dead. Aunt Edith would probably think she was a crackpot and hang up the telephone. The eulogy had already started, and Ann was nowhere to be found. Rose gave up her search and walked to one of the front pews to sit beside Kate.

"Nothing?" asked Kate.

"No." Rose stared at Ned as he placed his hands on the altar. "Why did Gus pick him to do the eulogy?"

"Payment for past sins," Kate whispered. But it began to look like a bad idea when Ned opened his mouth.

"Brothers and sisters," Ned began in a rather loud voice, "we are here today to send James Trent on his way home. Now, I don't know if the way is up or down, but we'll send him off right."

Hoots of "amen," and "tell it, brother," rang out from several people sitting in the packed church.

Their support encouraged Ned to preach on. "Brother James was not a good man. He was a rum drinker. I say a rum-drinking rascal. You can ask some of his women sitting out there!" Ned pointed to the back pews where a few young women bowed their heads in shame.

Rose and Kate stared at each other in horror while the rest of the congregation yelled amen.

"But, Brother James," Ned paused for effect, "was a loyal man. He was a brave man because he laid down his life for his friends. Now it's our duty to lay Brother James to rest, and speed him on to where ever it is he's going. Everybody bow your head and say a silent prayer." Ned walked down from the pulpit and sat in the front pew.

"That's it?" Rose could not believe the audacity of her best friend. Ned didn't look the least bit ashamed of what he had done.

Kate shook her head. "He must have found out." Kate vowed to strangle Ned when they got home. "I'm going to fix his butt then tie it up in a bow."

"I'll help you," said Rose.

But Rose was not as shocked as the bearded old man sitting in the last pew, or as stunned as Ann who was standing in the church vestibule. She knew that Ned disliked Jimmy, but this was outrageous behavior even for him. She dearly wished that her aunt hadn't contacted her to witness this travesty of a eulogy.

Ushers were wheeling the coffin out now, and Ann touched it as it passed by. She didn't want to be seen by anyone, least of all Ned. So she hurried out of the church and got in her car. Maybe the cemetery would be a better place to offer Jimmy her prayers.

 

*******************

Ann waited until the rest of the mourners formed a circle around Jimmy's grave. Then she made her way to a stone bench that was partially obscured by a large oak tree. She took out her handkerchief and dabbed at her wet eyes.

"Did Clara get you here safely, doll face?"

Ann was startled out of her sad thoughts. She looked up sharply at the old man sitting on the bench next to her. "Where did you come from! You're suppose to be dead."

"You know, sugar, you would never make a good spy. I sneaked up on you too easily," said Jimmy. He wore a fake grey mustache and beard. He even had the nerve to crush an old hat over a ratty grey wig. "I couldn't do a damn thing that night. Kate had my gun."

"But how-"

"Only Ned thinks I'm dead. But I've got my suspicions about that though." He tapped his cane on the ground. "Did you hear the crap he said about me? I don't even like rum."

Ann persisted. She had seen the blood splattered all over his back that horrible night. "I don't understand. You were shot."

"Shot in the ass." Jimmy frowned when she laughed at him. And when Ann finally finished laughing, he told her everything.

"Ned and I ruined your plan," she said this more to herself than Jimmy.

"You two snoops actually made it easier for us to jail all the creeps involved," he said.

"And the girls?" asked Ann. "What about the girls?"

"Some will be sent back to their parents, others will go to orphanages."

Ann hated the thought of those kids not having a home. She forced herself to ask the next question. "Did Ned...kill that man?"

"The guy got hit in the chest. Ned was behind him." Jimmy could see from the look on her face that she regretted asking the question. "I don't know where the hell Ned was aiming, but my backside is pretty tender right now."

"Then that means that Kate-"Ann cringed. She had never felt so ashamed. It had been her persistent meddling that caused Kate to take a life. "Will I ever see you again, Jimmy?" Ann hoped that she wouldn't lose his friendship as well.

"Yeah, sugar." He kissed her forehead. "But you can't call me Jimmy anymore. My real name's Eugene Palmer."

"You don't look like a Eugene." Ann fished a card out of her purse and Jimmy took it from her trembling hand. "Will you do something for me?"

"Sure, doll."

"I'll be working with Iris Davies for a little while. She owns a club. Have your people protect it." She looked at him hopefully.

Jimmy looked at the card and grinned. "I can do that." He patted his cheek for her to kiss. "I'll write you too, but you have to pick up your mail at Kate's."

"You know I can't go back there." Ann didn't think Kate would want to see her again.

He looked at her sadly. "Then have Rose send it to you. I don't want you to lose contact with them." He patted his cheek again. "Where's my kiss?"

Ann surprised Jimmy by kissing him on the lips. Afraid that she would cry again, she held on to him, taking comfort from his strong arms.

"Look down the road. You see that cherry red baby parked next to yours?" he asked. "Well, it's mine. You can keep Clara. She responds better to girls."

They waited together on the stone bench until the other mourners left the cemetery. Then they went their separate ways; each honking their car horns at the other until both cars were out of sight.

 

*******************

After two weeks passed, Ann settled into her new job as a waitress at Iris's restaurant.

As much as she disliked waiting tables, the work kept her busy and kept her mind on things other than missing Kate. Did she still love me...would she talk to me if I called her...has she met someone else? This speculation nonsense made Ann crazy with worry and grief each night she spent away from Kate. Stubbornness and pride became fast bed mates in this dance of denial.

Tonight, Ann was coming home now to an empty house. It always unnerved her that Iris was hardly ever home because Ann hated being alone. As she entered the beautiful brick house, she saw a note on the parlor table.

Will be home late. Take a bath and a nap, honey.

I'll cook dinner when I get in.

Iris.

Ann smiled as she made her way up the stairs. It amused her when Iris signed her notes. No one lived in the house with Iris but Ann. Take a nap. What was the woman thinking? It was barely six o'clock. Ann walked into the quarters Iris had generously given her. She began to take her clothes off in the small living room, but the light coming from under her bedroom door stopped her cold. "Jimmy! That man really is a rascal."

Ann pushed the door open, ready give him the shock of his life. She jumped when she saw Kate asleep in the overstuffed chair next to her bed. She smiled to herself. Jimmy was right: she would never make a good spy.

Ann felt a lump in her throat. She wanted to touch her, but she pulled back. What if Kate was here just to deliver her last paycheck? No, she would send Ned to do that. No matter the reason, Kate had made herself vulnerable- open to any reception Ann would give her.

Ann took a few deep breaths to calm her racing heart. Then she sat on the bed in front Kate. She studied the sleeping woman's features. Kate's brow was free of care, and her lips were slightly open as if waiting for a lover's kiss. Ann reached out and touched her hand, a tentative touch.

Kate woke to the soft touch. She leaned forward to stroke Ann's hair, and kiss her lips. Now was not the time for blame or apologies, Ann thought as she responded to Kate's soothing kiss.

Now was the time to hold Kate tenderly and cherish her...as she would forever.

 

 

The End

 

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